It seems that our culture (meaning American culture) is obsessed with Heroes. From books and movies to the never-ending stream of hero themed shows and amusement park rides, we love those with superhuman powers used, mostly, for good. The fight against evil needs warriors and apparently those warriors wear capes or tights or, in some cases, both. And we cannot get enough of them! (I have written about our infatuation with these forces for good here if you are interested). One question that we rarely ask though is this:
What is a Hero?
Since our ideas of the heroic are so often framed by the stories we see on the big screen or read in comic books and novels, we have a difficult time defining what makes the actions of an average person more than average. It is not uncommon in fact to call anyone who does ANYTHING we think is extraordinary a Hero! We have military heroes, sports heroes, political and civil rights heroes and business heroes. In every segment of society we have our heroes. But why? What is, in a real sense, a hero?
Not too long ago I wrote about the idea of courage and what it means to be courageous (you can read that here). There I gave a definition of courage that applies to our current question. My definition of courage is this:
Courage: An act taken alone with full knowledge that the consequences of that act may be detrimental to one’s physical well-being, livelihood, or acceptance by family and peers for a purpose bigger than themselves.
So what is a hero?
A hero is a person who acts courageously! A hero is not someone with superpowers or superior intellect or physical ability. A hero is someone who has recognized a need, counted the potential cost, and decided to act in spite of what might happen to them personally because there are people or a cause that justify that action. Heroism is unusual not because other CAN’T do what the hero has done. It is unusual because others WON’T do what the hero has done.
A military hero is someone who risks their life in order to save the lives of their fellow warriors.
A political or civil rights leader is someone who stands up for what they believe to be right knowing that they may lose their position, credibility, connections and in some cases even their life.
A hero at home is a mom or dad that sacrifices themselves for the good of the family that they care for.
And in just about every segment of society there are those who deserve to be called heroes because they do what needs to be done, with potential consequences to their physical well-being, livelihood or acceptance by family and peers for a purpose bigger than themselves. They act heroically and deserve the title.
We all love heroes on the big screen, but it is the ones who’s names we may never know that really make a difference in the world.